A distance-based kernel association test based on the generalized linear mixed model for correlated microbiome studies

Hyunwook Koh, Yutong Li, Xiang Zhan, Jun Chen, Ni Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Researchers have increasingly employed family-based or longitudinal study designs to survey the roles of the human microbiota on diverse host traits of interest (e. g., health/disease status, medical intervention, behavioral/environmental factor). Such study designs are useful to properly control for potential confounders or the sensitive changes in microbial composition and host traits. However, downstream data analysis is challenging because the measurements within clusters (e.g., families, subjects including repeated measures) tend to be correlated so that statistical methods based on the independence assumption cannot be used. For the correlated microbiome studies, a distance-based kernel association test based on the linear mixed model, namely, correlated sequence kernel association test (cSKAT), has recently been introduced. cSKAT models the microbial community using an ecological distance (e.g., Jaccard/Bray-Curtis dissimilarity, unique fraction distance), and then tests its association with a host trait. Similar to prior distance-based kernel association tests (e.g., microbiome regression-based kernel association test), the use of ecological distances gives a high power to cSKAT. However, cSKAT is limited to handling Gaussian traits [e.g., body mass index (BMI)] and a single chosen distance measure at a time. The power of cSKAT differs a lot by which distance measure is used. However, choosing an optimal distance measure is challenging because of the unknown nature of the true association. Here, we introduce a distance-based kernel association test based on the generalized linear mixed model (GLMM), namely, GLMM-MiRKAT, to handle diverse types of traits, such as Gaussian (e.g., BMI), Binomial (e.g., disease status, treatment/placebo) or Poisson (e.g., number of tumors/treatments) traits. We further propose a data-driven adaptive test of GLMM-MiRKAT, namely, aGLMM-MiRKAT, so as to avoid the need to choose the optimal distance measure. Our extensive simulations demonstrate that aGLMM-MiRKAT is robustly powerful while correctly controlling type I error rates. We apply aGLMM-MiRKAT to real familial and longitudinal microbiome data, where we discover significant disparity in microbial community composition by BMI status and the frequency of antibiotic use. In summary, aGLMM-MiRKAT is a useful analytical tool with its broad applicability to diverse types of traits, robust power and valid statistical inference.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number458
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - 2019


  • Adaptive association analysis
  • Community-level association analysis
  • Correlated microbiome studies
  • Distance-based association analysis
  • Longitudinal microbiome studies
  • Microbiome association studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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